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Feature 09 Sep 16

Albanians Feel Left out of Hollywood Blockbuster

Movie-goers in Albania have been disappointed to discover that the makers of 'War Dogs' - a Hollywood 'true' story about illegal arms traders - have omitted some of the key Albanian characters.

Fatjona Mejdini
Movie poster

The long-awaited Hollywood movie "War Dogs" - starring Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, and Bradley Cooper - has disappointed many Albanian film-goers because it leaves out some of the highest-profile Albanians involved in the true-life events depicted in the movie.

"We had a lot of interest in the first three or four days of the screening but it has dropped off in time since the Albanian characters in it are very superficially portrayed," the representative of Millennium cinemas in Tirana told BIRN.

The movie is based on the "Rolling Stone" article by Guy Lawson, the journalist author who went on to write "Arms and the Dudes," a book on the true story of the US ammunition company supplier AEY and its illegal work.

Lawson investigated the complicated scheme by which AEY, its broker Heinrich Thomet, and Albanian contractors repacked Chinese ammunition that was under a US embargo in Albania and sold it on to US forces fighting in Afghanistan. 

Lawson alleged in the book that high-level Albanian officials and the son of former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha were involved in the trade.

But the Hollywood movie directed by Todd Phillips and released in Albania on September 1 is a comedy-drama film focusing on the adventures of AEY’s owners as arm contractors for the US Pentagon - and it leaves out key Albanian characters that were crucial in Lawson's work.

The movie also does not mention Kosta Trebicka, a contractor for AEY in Albania and a whistleblower whose mysterious death in October 2008 sparked a debate in Albania about illegal arms deals.

In Phillips' movie, the man who strangely disappears after working with AEY is their Tirana driver.

Gjergji Gjole, administrator of Imperial cinemas in Tirana, told BIRN that while initial interests in the movie was high, some viewers felt let down by the way the events in Albania were portrayed.

"People were curious about the movie and were continuously coming and asking our tickets sellers if it retold the events of the arms sales in Albania, as they had heard, but after watching it, there was disappointment," he said.

However, Gjole said Imperial cinemas still plan to screen the movie for three weeks in a row. Other Hollywood movies of this category are normally screened only for two weeks. "Interest is still high, so we are mulling this option," he said.

Rovena Rrozhani, a journalist with a passion for movies, told BIRN that feelings of disappointment in movies that try to deal with "true" events are normal.

"The public tends to compare reality with the artistic product, but often the expectations from the director's point of view are different.

"There are viewers who can detach themselves from the real events and who can see the movie simply as an artistic creation - but generally, when a movie is based on a true story, it is almost impossible to do this," she said.

Another reason why Albanians might feel disappointed with the film is simpler: one of the Albanian characters featured in it speaks Romanian instead of Albanian.

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